Normally, an expansion pack means a trip to the local game store, some downtime and maybe even a big patch. When you’re an eight-year-old game, though, that just doesn’t cut it anymore. On November 13, SOE will introduce to its community Secrets of Faydwer, the game’s 14th expansion, and in a moment where marketing meets gameplay, the company will literally move a mountain to introduce it.
This update centers on the gnomes and as the expansion kicks off, Meldrath the gnomish Necromancer blasts a huge chunk of earth out of the revamped Steamfont Mountains to create the airborne Fortress Mechanotus. As it takes off and passes over the zone, mechanical creatures will rain down on the players. Once complete, those who have the expansion get to make their way into Mechanotus and experience the brand new content up there.
Fortress Mechanotus makes up six of the 15 new zones in Secrets of Faydwer. Players can take advantage of the new areas to advance the extra five levels that SoF unlocks (the level cap goes up to 80). The first areas are ready for players at the old cap, while the last few are a bit more challenging for those who’ve already been at level 75 for a while.
Other new areas include Bloodmoon Keep and Crystollas. EverQuest is not exactly known for its subtlety in naming. The former is a haunted elven keep now inhabited by werewolf orcs, and the latter is the lair of a prismatic dragon and his minions.
Both new areas show how EverQuest’s developers refuse to rest on their laurels. They’ve created some of the most innovative content in an MMOG to date. In Bloodmoon Keep, the werewolf-orcs are not just a clever combination of the two. Instead, they appear as regular orcs, but as their health bar goes down, they slowly shift and reshape themselves into werewolves. It makes for a nasty surprise and a good visual trick you’d not expect from a game approaching 10 years of age.
The Bloodmoon Keep is targeted at a slightly lower level than Fort Mechanotus and houses two “mini-raids” for the slightly more advanced crowd. In EverQuest terms, a mini-raid requires two full groups to complete. One of the mini-raids pits players against a brood spider, the other against a “particularly vicious wolf.” All told, the expansion contains roughly 30 full-blown, 54-player raids, a number that boggles the mind.
Crystollas houses Kerafyrm, the prismatic dragon famously put in a raid event back in 2003. He’d disappeared from Norrath for quite some time, but in SoF, he’s back. The dungeon is not just a simple string of enemies in four elementally themed wings. It’s not just about puzzles, either. SOE brings it all to a level few MMOGs have dared.
“We did more action-oriented stuff,” said Senior Game Designer Ryan Barker.
In the dungeon, Barker showed off four examples. He turned down the fire-themed hall full of monsters, which seemed pretty straightforward. Along the walls are stone dragon heads, and as the players fight the enemies, these dragon heads shoot lethal flames across the hall. Players need to pay attention and time their progress or get burned to death.
To make it even more complicated, the room also has what is essentially a timer. Behind the players are a group of fire elementals who cannot really be killed. Instead, they move slowly forward, like the ceiling in an old Mario game. To survive, the players need to simultaneously beat the monsters, dodge the flames and do it before the fire elementals overtake them.
In the earth-themed areas, players find themselves in oddly round tunnels. Normally, that’s scenery. In EverQuest, it’s straight out of Indiana Jones. Boulders come flying down the tunnels and crush the player who takes them lightly. To survive, people must be fast and know when to dodge down a side hall.
Eventually, the dungeons ends with the anticipated duel, but for the first time in a while, the journey felt more interesting than the destination. For once, it’s not just a means to an end, but truly engrossing gameplay.
Heading back to the gnome lands, Barker showed off a couple more neat innovations. First was a giant mechanical monster – who bares an odd resemblance to the Iron Giant – who must have fallen off Fort Mechanotus on its trip to the sky. If players get too close, he’ll literally boot them across the zone. Clever players though can actually climb in the guy’s right foot and find themselves in a new zone with a series of quests that take them through the giant.
They stuck to the gnomes’ eccentric theme when it came time to transport players from the ground to the fort. Let’s just say, there’s no better way to travel than by cannon.
Aside from the new levels, SOE also introduces Heroic Stats in the expansion. This is just a further way for players to differentiate their characters.
The innovations in the oldest mainstream MMOG should make the current crop of rinse-lather-repeat games ashamed of themselves. Simply, some of the things this expansion does are on the wishlist for these supposedly “next gen” titles. It’s time for people to stop copying EverQuest and to start copying their innovative spirit.